Conspiracy law, which generally exists at the federal and lower legislative levels, refers to legislation regarding crimes that result from agreements to engage in illegal activities. These crimes must involve two or more parties. Offenses in this category are often judged harshly and conviction commonly results in a felony. Although many convicts receive substantial sentences, conspiracy law often provides for lighter judgments than individuals would receive if they were convicted of executing the crime.
Conspiracy law generally requires that there be at least two accused parties. This is because a conspiracy cannot exist without an agreement. An agreement requires more than one individual. It should be noted, however, that both parties may not have to face conspiracy charges. For example, one person may be brought to trial for murder, while the other is only tried for conspiracy to commit murder, despite the fact that both charges pertain to the same incident.
It is possible, however, for a person to be convicted of a conspiracy without proof of or conviction for any other crime. If two people outline a plan to rob a bank and the plan is discovered before the robbery occurs, they may still be charged with conspiracy to commit robbery. Conspiracy law may require, however, that some act be taken to show that the parties truly intended to act on their plan. How drastic this action must be is often a matter of jurisdiction and legal decision.
There are several common misconceptions about this area of criminal law that can cause people to inaccurately presume their innocence or to underestimate the viability of such charges. First, many people believe that there must be a stated agreement to break the law. In most jurisdictions, this is not the case. If one person drives to a store, puts on a ski mask, and loads a gun then another does the same and they head toward a bank, although there was no verbal communication or planning, the law recognizes this as an agreement to act illegally.
Second, people also commonly believe they must have been aware and in agreement with all of the details regarding how a crime will be executed. Two people could agree to make a large illegal drug purchase. After the transaction is complete, one individual may decide to sell the drugs to a third party. Although his partner may not have been aware that a buyer had been found and a sale agreed upon, he may still be found guilty of conspiracy to sell a controlled substance.